Health officials have confirmed a second U.S. case of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in Florida this week. Not a native of the states, the victim was visiting from Saudi Arabia. Health officials say this case is unrelated to the other recent one diagnosed in Indiana.
“The risk to the public remains very low,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, health officials are trying to contact all the passengers on the planes the man took to inform them to watch out for early signs of the MERS virus.
This virus has been found in camels, but officials don’t know how it is spreading to humans. It can spread from person to person, but officials believe that happens only after close contact. Not all those exposed to the virus become ill.
But it appears to be unusually lethal – some estimates have suggested it has killed nearly a third of the people it sickened. The estimate has been dropping as health officials have begun diagnosing more and more cases with less severe illness. But the estimated fatality rate for MERS still is far higher than what’s seen with seasonal flu or other routine infections.
Are we looking at the beginning of a new pandemic? As a physician, I seriously doubt it. However, what if this virus mutates into something more contagious? Though slim, the possibility is there. Like all viruses, MERS is prone to frequent mutations, and does have the potential to become more infectious. And what makes this scary is that we still have no treatment, prevention or source for this virus.